Education Blog

Honoring Illinois’ Early Childhood Educators

Four people stand together in front of a big banner that reads "Early Childhood Champaign," "PBS KIDS" and "WILL-TV."

(L) Illinois Public Media CEO Moss Bresnahan; Bethany Patten, workforce policy director for the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development; Kimberlie Kranich, director of engagement and educational outreach at Illinois Public Media and Niala Boodhoo, host of The 21st, welcome early childhood educators at WILL's inaugural Early Childhood Champions Dinner May 23, 2019.

Raising, supporting and teaching very young children is an awesome responsibility that takes many kinds of skills, patience and access to resources.  If you are in the midst of doing this work, you are helping lay the foundation for a child’s lifelong learning, and WILL Education wants to thank and support you.

On May 23, WILL Education honored early childhood educators and volunteers from around central Illinois at our inaugural Early Childhood Champions Dinner.  More than 130 early childhood educators attended.  Musicians from the Banks, Bridgewater and Lewis Fine Arts Academy entertained the crowed with live jazz.

Keynote speaker Bethany Patten, workforce policy director for the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, told those assembled that their work was valuable “regardless of where you work or what your title is.”

Bethany said the governor’s office is focused on supporting early childhood professionals because “we know the impact that you can have on children’s lives when your own well-being and development is supported, and we understand the positive effect that that impact can have on communities and our state.”  If you are a parent, you might also relate to how taking care of yourself and your development supports you in raising your children.

Bethany co-authored "Voices From the Frontlines of Early Learning: 2017 Illinois Early Childhood Workforce Survey Report," the first statewide assessment of early learning hiring and retention experiences across funding streams in Illinois. The report concluded that turnover rates are high in the profession—which can be detrimental to both children and families—and the lack of funding for adequate compensation is the greatest barrier to hiring and retention.

“The science of child development and early learning confirms the critical importance of a well-trained early childhood workforce, as well as consistency and continuity in early care and education,” the report said. “Yet, just when children most need a consistent foundation of support, the field of early childhood education is fragmented and inconsistent.”

So what’s the answer to this inconsistency issue?  Policy changes, more funding and research and sharing your stories with your local government and legislators.

While our understanding increases and people advocate for change, we’d like to honor the mostly uncelebrated work you do as an early childhood educator.  If you would like to attend our 2020 Early Childhood Champions dinner, please send your contact information to Kimberlie Kranich at  We will be sure to send you an invitation. If you are a parent and would like support from us, please visit the PBS Parents website or call Kellie Blanden at 217-333-7300.


PNC Bank employees David Henry, Kristina Huisinga, Aubrey Pettenger and Paige McDermitt pose in front of the Early Childhood Champions banner.